An international aviation expert said Tuesday that PMT Air’s continued delay in paying compensation to the families of the 22 people killed in last year’s plane crash in Kampot province falls far short of standard airline practices and begs the question of whether the carrier had adequate insurance.
“Frankly, it’s unacceptable for families to be waiting for years for compensation,” said David Learmount, an air safety expert and editor of the London-based Flight International magazine.
“I don’t know if it’s unique to Cambodia, but I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he said by telephone from London.
PMT’s flight U4 241 crashed while flying from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville on June 25, 2007, killing 13 South Koreans, five Cambodians, three Czechs and an Uzbek pilot.
The families of the five Cambodian victims have not yet received compensation. Neither have the families of the 13 South Korean victims, who filed a lawsuit Friday in a Seoul court seeking $4 million in damages from the airline.
Generally, Learmount said, an airline would reach an early settlement with the families of the victims as receiving the actual insurance company’s payment can last many years.
“Having an accident, for an airline that considers themselves reputable, is a disaster. So you could say it’s very self-interested to give people money,” Learmount said.
“Maybe airlines in Cambodia think there’s no shame in having a crash,” he added.
The International Civil Aviation Organization, the UN’s aviation oversight body, requires all commercial and chartered airlines to hold insurance, Learmount said, although he added that lax government oversight might fail to enforce this.
“One of the things I would be wondering is if [PMT Air is] insured at all,” he said.
PMT Air Director Sar Sareth has previously said the insurer of the doomed flight was based in London, but this week he said the insurance company is based in the US. The State Secretariat for Civil Aviation, however, continues to believe the insurer is based in London. Neither will reveal the insurance company’s name.
Most probable is that PMT Air has multiple insurers in several Western countries, said Magnus Allan, an expert on aviation for Aon, a leading airline insurance broker. Aon usually spreads airline insurance among several underwriters, Allan said Tuesday, because losses from crashes can be so high that no single insurer can support the claims.
When crashes do occur, he said, the time it takes to receive compensation can last years, during which insurers rarely reveal themselves.
“An aviation incident is incredibly complex. When there are different nationals involved, you’re in different jurisdictions. It adds a further element of complexity,” he said by telephone from London.
Sar Sareth said Monday that compensation will not be paid to any Cambodian families until the lawsuit with the South Korean families is resolved.
He said lawyers will need to negotiate for a settlement lower than the $4 million the South Korean families are demanding.
Such wrangling could drag indefinitely through South Korea’s court system, said South Korean Embassy Second Secretary Wonjae Uhm.
“I cannot guess if it will take one month or six months or a year,” Wonjae Uhm said Monday.
The South Korean families have blamed the crash on pilot error, problems with Sihanoukville airport’s automated radar terminal system and defects in the Soviet-made plane, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
Khim Sophorn, secretary of state for the Secretariat of Civil Aviation, said by phone Monday that the SSCA will not assist the Cambodian families in claiming their compensation from PMT Air.
“Compensation is always between the family and the insurance,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Cambodian victims’ families all said they’re too poor to afford personal attorneys, leaving the matter of compensation in the hands of the airline, the insurer and the South Korean families.
“I don’t have enough money to find lawyers,” said Heang Sorphorn, widow of deceased flight engineer Uth Chandara.
Chan Seth, widow of the deceased flight pilot Hean Chandara, said she filled out insurance paperwork more than a year ago in order to receive compensation from PMT Air, but she hasn’t heard back from the airline ever since.
“My husband worked for [PMT Air] and made money for this company. I am so sad and angry,” she said by telephone Tuesday.